Part three of ‘Ten years after rape’
I was lucky that my rape case went to trial. It is hard for rape cases to reach court because often it is one person’s word against another. There are often no witnesses, no injuries, and no DNA evidence because people often don’t report immediately. In my case I was lucky, if you can call it lucky, to receive injuries and have them documented by a medical professional and to have a witness to the immediate aftermath (a man I had never met before). There was no DNA evidence because I waited a year to report but my rapist admitted having sex with me so it didn’t matter.
I wasn’t prepared for criminal proceedings. I had no idea that it would be such a long process or that it would have such a devastating impact on me. I don’t know why, but I thought it would be over in a few months. In the end it took about a year and four months from report to the final verdict. I was lucky that I only had to wait a year for the first trial at crown court. Some people wait much longer. Unfortunately, the trial began almost two years to the day since I was raped. It was terrible timing but I didn’t really have a choice.
I’ve heard people say the trial was like a second rape. I didn’t believe it was possible to be traumatised any further, but I was wrong. A criminal trial is not about finding out the facts and evaluating the evidence. It’s about painting people in the best and worst possible light, breaking witnesses down and confusing the (generally bored and/or stupid) jury. It certainly isn’t just.
After I went to court I felt a lot of anger towards my rapist’s barrister and the legal system more generally. I believe everyone should have the right to representation and a fair trial but currently I do not believe victims are getting a fair trial. They are only given the status of ‘witness’, having no counsel for themselves and not meeting the barrister for the prosecution until the first day of the trial (note: it is not their barrister). Barristers use tactics such a ‘going for the jugular’ with the intention of causing a witness to crumble. They bring up topics such as sexual history despite this being inadmissible. When they use inappropriate tactics they get no more than a warning from the judge, out of earshot of the jury. In my trial his barrister repeatedly forced me to read parts of my testimony that I found particularly difficult for no reason other than to make me distressed (he was reprimanded by the judge for this). He claimed I enjoyed it, my cries were pleasure and I had an orgasm (because orgasms are that easy to come by with penetrative sex…especially the first time you ever have sex!)
While my character was attacked and my mental health history was being misused, his actions were deemed inadmissible. The prosecution wasn’t allowed to bring up the fact he claimed to be someone else when the police went to arrest him, skipped bail and was caught with cannabis in an area his bail conditions stated he was not allowed to be, and nearly didn’t turn up on the day of the verdict. Currently rape trials are heavily weighted in favour of the defendant. I fully believe defendants in rape trials (and all trials) should have a fair trial but I don’t believe this should be at the expense of victims.
Going to court was something I felt I had to do but in many ways I wish I had never stood in the witness box. In addition to having to recall ever detail of the worst night of my life, I felt like I was on trial. It felt like an attack, but it was by a system I had grown up believing was there to protect me. Seeing the legal system from the inside showed me how hard it is to get a conviction, even with a substantial amount of evidence. It made me realise so many people who are guilty walk free and that made the world a terrifying place for me.
The first trial was a hung jury but at the retrial he was found not guilty. The verdict destroyed me and also put a huge strain on my relationship. My personality became grey. I didn’t want to leave the house. I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t want to have sex. I didn’t want to sleep because of the nightmares and my boyfriend couldn’t sleep properly because I cried and screamed in my sleep.
Despite not getting justice, I at least knew I was believed by the police, the prosecution and even my rapist’s barrister. After the trial ended his barrister told the police officer that he couldn’t believe he had been found not guilty. I was angry at him for ripping me to shreds on the stand when he didn’t even believe the person he was defending but I understood it was his job.
If I could have known the verdict in advance, I wouldn’t have reported it, but I was lucky, if you can call it lucky, that my case even went to trial.
Part four: What is PTSD?